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Despite it's insane difficulty, the PS3-exclusive RPG Demon's Souls became one of my favorite games on the console. Unfortunately, after my PS3 died on me and I had to have it replaced by Sony, I lost my save file for this game and never completed it. I was damned close too! I had cleared at least the first two levels of each world, and had even killed the Dragon God at the bottom of Stonefeng. I was pissed when I found out that save file had not transferred onto my replacement system.

With the sequel, Dark Souls, due out in less than a month, I figured I'd go back to Demon's Souls and try to finish it before I pick up the sequel - not going to be an easy task...

Hopefully, I'll have the game beat in time for the "sequel" to arrive. Although, as far as I can tell, Dark Souls is considered a "spiritual successor" to Demon's Souls, rather than a strict sequel (similar to the relationship between Shadow of the Colossus and Ico).

My excitement for Dark Souls has even inspired me to break my year-long boycott of game pre-orders and "special edition" purchases.

For those of you who don't know, I've been boycotting pre-orders and special editions of games since the release of Civilization V.

Civilization V Collector's Edition
The Civilization V Collector's Edition contained some worthwhile stuff for fans of the series, but did not contain the playable Babylon DLC that was included with the Steam digital download.

I was furious that Firaxis offered retailer-exclusive and pre-order-exclusive gameplay content. The Steam digitial download was the only way to get the "special edition" which came with Babylon as a playable civilization; whereas, other retailers offered their own pre-order incentives such as map packs. The real kicker though, was the "Collector's Edition" that was only available as a physical boxed set that contained art books, figurines, a game soundtrack CD, and so forth. But since this "Collector's Edition" was not the Steam digital download, it did not contain the Babylon playable civilization.

My frustration with all the mutually-exclusive versions of the game - each with unique gameplay content - lead me to refuse to pre-order the game or purchase any of the special editions. I waited till midnight of release day and bought the game at Wal-Mart (which is open at midnight).

Other games have similarly infuriated me:

  • Star Trek Online offered retailer-exclusive gameplay content. Pre-ordering the game also gave players access to the "open" Beta. Despite the Beta being thoroughly disappointing, I did not cancel my pre-order (which included a lifetime subscription). I played the game for all of 2 weeks before putting it down and have never picked it up since. Over $300 down the drain...
  • I purchased the Collector's Edition of Spore on release day from Best Buy. Partly because I was confident that the game would be good. But mostly because the Collector's Edition was all that was left on the Best Buy shelf by the time I got there. As a huge fan of both SimCity and The Sims, I expected big things from Will Wright's Spore. But the game failed on all levels, and I regretted having spent $90 on it after I gave up on it a week later.
  • Fallout: New Vegas offered retailer-exclusive armor and weapons. This was a moot point for me though, as I had already resolved to not buy New Vegas new anyway. Fallout 3 and Oblivion were so horribly buggy that I just couldn't justify paying full retail price for one of Bethesda's games again. So I waited a week and bought it used for $10 cheaper. Not much of a price difference for me, but it did keep $60 out of the pockets of Bethesda.

Besides, the last time a game even came close to not actually being available on release day was Spore. There were only 2 copied of the Collector's Edition left on the shelf when I got to the store, but who knows how many were sitting in the storeroom. So there really isn't any reason to bother pre-ordering games anymore because they are so readily available.

Hardware, however, is a different story! Game consoles and peripherals are definitely worth pre-ordering, as I learned with the Rock Band 3 PRO Guitar!

So, why am I breaking my pre-order boycott for Dark Souls?

Dark Souls Collector's Edition pre-order content
The Dark Souls pre-order Collector's Edition includes a soundtrack, behind-the-scenes DVD, art book, and mini-game guide, along with the standard version of the game.
UPDATE: The Collector's Edition content was changed at the last minute. The min-strategy guide, soundtrack CD, and behind-the-scenes DVD have been removed from the package and replaced with an online access code to download the same material digitally. Shame. The artbook is still included in the box.

Well, because this pre-order is the first one that I've seen in well over a year that hasn't been offensive in some way.

As far as I can tell, this "Collector's Edition" replaces any pre-order of the game. It has no extra cost. There is no pre-order or retailer-exclusive in-game content. All bonuses are physical objects that only appeal to fans of the game/series. It's a perfectly fair and reasonable pre-order.

I am a little bit confused about the soundtrack though. According to the press-release that I read, the soundtrack is going to be a "digital download". However, the image shown above includes a CD soundtrack. I'm assuming there will be a physical CD, since the first Demon's Souls was advertised as including a "digital download soundtrack", but it came with a physical disc.

A brief wishlist for Dark Souls

While playing the game, I started noticing more and more of the nagging flaws than I had noticed earlier. Below is a list of the things that I am most looking forward to seeing in the next game:

  • The game has already started to show it's age, as its once top-of-the-line graphics already look bad in comparison to similar games that have been released since. I'm definitely expecting a huge step up visually. Although the fact that the game is going to be multiplatform will likely drag down the visuals below what could have been achieved if the game had stayed PS3-exclusive.
  • Better enemy AI. I know that might sound like a weird request for the sequel to a game that is famous for its brutal difficulty. But when replaying the game, the poor enemy AI becomes very apparent. It is very easy for an experienced player to pick up on nuances of enemy pathfinding, attack patterns, and pursuit ranges and easily dispatch any enemy that the player has any familiarity with.
    • Enemies (especially ranged enemies) should take cover when being assaulted by the player. Ranged and magical enemies should not just stand in the open and let me pummel them with arrows or magic missiles. Move around! Take cover! Do something!
    • Ranged units should be able to defend themselves modestly in close-quarters combat. Honestly, I think most of those crossbowman in Boletaria Castle would probably have a little dagger, short sword, or hand axe on his person in case an enemy gets close. I know I do!
    • Pathfinding should be improved so that enemies don't get stuck in doorways as often as they do.
    • I'd like to see standard enemies change up their attack patterns a little bit more. Too many encounters come down to executing memorized, practiced steps. Combat in Demon's Souls sometimes seems more like a dance than a fight.
  • Fewer easily-predictable patterns and trial-and-error would be nice. The best example I can think of is the dragons that breath fires on the bridges in Boletaria. It would be kind of cool if they could be a little bit more easily outrun, but would show up at a more random time when you're on the bridge - preferably when you're in the middle of combat. It would induce a panic reaction in which the player would have to quickly decide where to go to get away. Of course, if such situations were implemented, there would need to be much more accessible and obvious shelter from such threats.
  • Show all the items that my character currently has equipped on his person. So if I'm holding a spear and have a crossbow as my alternate weapon, I'd like to see the crossbow on my character. This should apply to all accessories too, like crossbow bolts, arrows, rings, consumeables, and so forth.
  • Better range combat is a must! For one thing, being able to choose not to immediately reload a crossbow after firing would be nice. It would give us a chance to jump out of the way of incoming counter-attacks. The first-person view for regular bows and the telescope could also use some work.
  • Make magic less overpoweringly strong in the early game. Or get rid of it completely. Honestly, whenever I pick a character class other than the Royalty, I feel like I'm at a huge disadvantage because that Soul Arrow spell is just so damned powerful. It's a one-hit-kill for almost any standard enemy in the first two worlds. And the Fragrant Ring that the Royalty class starts with just makes them seem even more OP in my opinion.
  • Add some transparency effects for obstacles that get between the player and the camera. There are too many places (Stonefang and Valley of Defilement in particular) in which wooden rafters and beam, pillars, and other objects in the environment will get between the player and the camera and block our view of ourselves and enemies around us. This sort of thing is unacceptable in a modern game. I hope it gets fixed.
  • Whatever you do, please do not tone down the creepiness of the levels! Demon's Souls is one of the creepiest games ever made. Part of that is due to its punishing difficulty. But the levels themselves are genuinely creepy. The slow pace of the game and need for caution only helps to build tension and amplify every little footstep and sound effect. I hope Dark Souls continues that design philosophy.
  • Be able to sheath/holster our weapons without necessarily having to unequip them. I actually did have games of Demon's Souls in which my finger slipped or I put down the controller and accidentally attacked a valuable NPC in the Nexus, turning them hostile and then having to kill them. I would prefer to have a safety feature that would prevent that possibility. Perhaps holding the right directional button for a few seconds could sheath/holster your right-hand weapon?
  • No more ragdoll. Seriously. It's annoying. Dead bodies should have some mass.
  • Last, but most definitely not least, do not copy-protect the game's save file! Or, at the very least, give us the option to save our characters on the server (cloud storage, like Portal 2) so that if we ever need to replace our HDD or have our console repaired or replaced, we won't lose all progress in the game.

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